Thursday, July 19, 2007

Environmental Education- The Best of Both Worlds!

The process of carrying out a natural experiment has really confirmed some of the career/life choices that I’ve made. One of the great things about being a teacher, particularly an independent school teacher, is that one gains the ability to dabble thoughtfully in a lot of things. This trip in general, and the experiment in particular, was an example of having a great time dabbling in something I couldn't do forever. I long ago decided that being a professional environmentalist would be too depressing for me to handle, but I’m finding that being an environmental educator is actually not depressing at all. Working with kids, especially the kind of kids that get motivated by environmental issues, is fun and leads to a more optimistic view of the future. Nonetheless, because I still feel the fundamental work of a teacher is a better match for my personality than the work of “professional environmentalist” is, I continue to feel I made the right basic choice, at least so far.

It turns out to be a similar situation for the kind of small-scale experiments you do on program like this. I don’t think I would like to be a full-time ecologist. When I did an Earthwatch program two years ago (assisting an ecological scientist with research in a reef area of the Bahamas) I had a great time for the first few days. Eventually, however, counting mollusks or staring at algae for hours at a time got a little old. The problem was complicated by the fact that we didn’t ever get to see much of a clear outcome from our work.

For this project, it was extremely gratifying and even fun to be able to design an experiment (especially one that let me spend all my time on a beautiful beach) and carry it through to the end. It was also nice to be able to show it to people and get positive feedback. However, during the research time itself, I did find myself feeling that the classroom is a better place for me than the field. After two and a half hours of staring into the water, I would find that my eyes were getting a bit bleary, my patience a bit short and the exact connection between saving the planet and determining whether that blur I saw in the water was a large or small fish was becoming a bit unclear.

In short: the research was fun, but I like being with kids. And I really like the idea of being an environmental educator.

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